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Kelowna provides financial relief to residents during pandemic, other cities consider options

Kelowna council votes to defer penalty for 2020 property taxes
While Okanagan, Shuswap, West Kootenay and Similkameen towns consider financial relief options for residents, Kelowna joins Salmon Arm in offering property owners extra time to pay property taxes.

The City of Kelowna has voted to give its residents and property owners a break while continuing to provide essential services during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council has directed staff to temporarily change a number of financial practices to help ratepayers, including delaying interest charges for property taxes, utilities, rents and licences.

“We are trying to provide flexibility to those residents and businesses that need to adjust due to the interruption in their incomes,” Kelowna mayor Colin Basran said in a press release. “By deferring interest and penalties to September for those who need it, we are doing everything in our power as a local government to provide some financial relief for residents through the spring and summer.”

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Paying property taxes late usually results in a 10 per cent interest penalty in Kelowna.

The city has deferred the property tax penalty until Sept. 1, and owners can place auto-withdrawls on hold starting Apr. 7 until Aug. 31.

“Those who can meet the current property tax due date of July 2 are urged to do so to maintain the City’s cash flow for essential services,” the city’s release said.

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City of Kelowna prepares to slash budget for 2020 amid COVID-19 pandemic

City of Kelowna utility bill payments will not face interest for late payment from April 7 until Aug. 31.

The city said interest charges on accounts receivable accounts (i.e. permits, licenses, rents) are waived during this period as well.

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If you owe money for unpaid parking fines or other outstanding fees or bylaw fines issued by the City of Kelowna, collection agency efforts have been suspended until Aug. 31.

Insufficient fund fees have also been waived temporarily.

Council has asked staff to bring forward a revenue anticipation borrowing bylaw to allow Kelowna to borrow for the short-term as it maintains essential services.

“Unlike other levels of government, municipal governments cannot run a deficit, so we’re are doing what we can to give people a break, while still fulfilling our obligations to maintain services and comply with our legislated responsibilities,” said Basran.

West Kelowna council is looking at increasing its credit line limit to $6 million in the anticipation of revenue streams falling short.

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West Kelowna staff are reviewing the potential options for financial relief in their community and are expected to bring a report to council in the coming weeks.

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Penticton city council is also considering giving its residents more time to pay property taxes without penalty.

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“Council has asked staff to evaluate the impacts of deferring the property tax deadline until September 30, 2020,” a release from Penticton stated on March 26.

The property tax deadline in Penticton is normally July 31.

“We are looking at what we can do at the municipal level to assist our residents, businesses and non-profits in making it through the COVID-19 public health emergency,” Penticton mayor John Vassilaki said.  “We recognize that the timing of property taxes may add to the financial burden so adjusting the deadline is worth considering.”

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“Property tax is one of the City’s primary sources of revenue,” said Vassilaki. “We need to ensure we fully understand the impacts before making this decision.”

Penticton council is meeting virtually on Apr. 7 at 1:30 p.m.

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In Vernon, council has so far waived interest fees on its utility bill that will be issued in April and downtown street-parking is now free.

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Grand Forks municipal staff are looking at options for residents who need to defer utility or tax bills.

“Property taxes, though collected by the city, are subject to timelines set by the provincial government and Grand Forks will adapt to any deadline adjustments made by the province,” according to a statement made on the town’s website March 24.

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Salmon Arm council has extended the deadline for property taxes until July 31, 2020, and April and June utility bills will not face 10 per cent late payment penalties.

Salmon Arm council also reduced its 2020 tax rate to zero per cent to give all property owners a break during the pandemic.

The District of Sicamous has set up a $20,000 emergency grant fund for non-profit community groups but has yet to announce financial relief for property owners.